Chapter 23 – Turning the Page
The following evening brought Harry to Hogwarts again. He was attending a meeting with McGonagall and Snape regarding the expelled Slytherins. Awfully, as he had suspected, the Headmistress had felt compelled to expel Felix Avery and Brandon Carrow simply to keep the peace. Harry was glad Severus had agreed to attend and speak in defence of the two students. Regardless of Snape's words, McGonagall had some misgivings on allowing the students to return, unless some kind of order and control could be assured and full-scale mutiny avoided... at this point Harry wasn't certain of the best way to deal with this. After all, House relations hadn't exactly been that great in his years at school, or indeed Snape's either.
Once the meeting was over Harry found himself mindlessly trailing Snape's footsteps. He knew what the man would likely say, but he was at a loose end tonight, Hermione and Ron were busy, Ginny was still not speaking to him...
After a corridor or two, it became clear the elder man was heading directly back to the dungeons. When Snape reached the top of the steps he stopped abruptly, but did not turn.
"Potter, care to explain why you are following me? If you failed to notice, the meeting ended when we left the office..."
Harry couldn't disguise the disappointment from his voice. "Er...I still have that memory of yours you know, if you want it back...?"
Snape shrugged. "I am hardly short of them. Keep it for all I care."
The man stepped down into the shadows of the dungeons, then, and as the sound of his footsteps began to die away, Harry felt a sharp pang of grief, a sense of loss that he couldn't quite comprehend.
After Snape had taken the right turn towards his private rooms he once again heard somebody behind him, this time whirling around to face his tracker. He was noticeably angry now.
"Are you deaf, or merely-"
Snape stopped abruptly mid-sentence; Potter had come to a halt far closer to him than he'd realised. The boy – no, the man - looked somewhat different close to, older, leaner, the shadow of stubble on a more defined chin, the hopeful mouth, the striking, emerald green eyes, so like his mother's, and yet so alive with desire.
"Potter," he breathed. "What are you-"
Snape did not get to finish his sentence.
As if caught by a sudden whirlwind, the dungeon torches all along the corridor flickered, guttered, and then went out.
The next morning belonged to silence.
Silence, but for the sound of another person, breathing softly in sleep beside him. A sound he had so rarely, if ever, heard in his life. It was strange.
Snape turned his head; the man was sleeping on his front, his bare, young back milky pale in the light. His upper right arm had heavy curse-scarring, grooves and pock marks that would likely remain with him for life. His face, free of the usual circular glasses of James Potter, wore an unbelievably peaceful expression.
Peaceful...to be sleeping in the same bed with...?
Once again, he cursed himself that he had been blind to the young man's intentions 'til he had been kissed... As with Finch-Fletchley, the contact had awoken desire. Even as he had grabbed the Gryffindor's wrists meaning to push him away, he knew he could not bring himself to.
So Potter had stayed.
What was this? Had Pucey a secret crush on the Boy Saviour in his life that his body had not forgotten, or was it simply that he was hereafter doomed to sleep with anyone who touched him? Snape quietly wished it was the latter... After all, Potter should not be his type...
Men weren't your type a month ago, a snide voice reminded him in his head. You have resisted Pucey's other proclivities; Quidditch, nicotine...Even your own vice, alcohol. Why should this be any different?
But it was not a vice. It was incomparable. If his bones, his blood, his brain and his memories were each allowed to speak in turn, they would all give the same answer.
Human need. If he denied that he craved affection and attention he would be a bare-faced liar.
Thank Salazar that he was still human, still capable of feeling, especially after everything he had lived through...
Snape closed his eyes again and listened to his guest's soft breathing. It was a strange, but not unwelcome sound.
But, after everything...why did Harry Potter want him? What could possibly be his reason?
He lay there, thinking disquieting thoughts.
Harry stretched, feeling cool sheets under his reaching hands and opened his eyes sleepily. Things were always blurred without glasses, but this morning there was a grey-orange glow in the room that was unusual, reminded him of-
Harry blinked hard and found the fuzzy outline of a shorthaired young man peering warily back at him.
Merlin's balls...he hadn't dreamed it...
And unlike his relationship with Ginny, he'd been the one underneath. It had been a new, but certainly not unpleasant experience. Eye-opening, game-changing, overwhelming...
"Morning Potter," said Snape quietly. Unlike the Gryffindor's, his body was concealed under the bedsheets save for one arm laying outside, his eyes were watchful blue beads, his face a little on the pale side, despite the low glow of the fire.
"Hey," Returned Harry softly, feeling his cheeks burning up with a heady mix of embarrassment, thrill and fear.
An uncomfortably long silence followed.
"If this room became any quieter, I am sure we would be able to hear the distant sound of Remus Lupin turning in his grave." Offered Snape dryly.
Harry snorted, half amused and half appalled by the comment. "But he was always the nicest to you out of the Marauders..."
Snape's eyes narrowed. "Nice is not exactly the word I would use... I feel 'spineless' would be a fairer judge on his contribution to situations. However, the man did at least grow more of a spine once he reached manhood..."
"Can we not talk about Remus?" Mumbled Harry, suddenly restless. He twisted an arm round to grab his glasses from the bedside table.
"Why not? Too upsetting?" Snape raised an eyebrow, his tone was unsympathetic.
Harry put his glasses on and shot Snape a hurt look, then sat up to peer round for his clothes. When he did, Snape noticed a magical tattoo of a phoenix on his upper left arm, of the same size as the scarring on his upper right. It was partly animated, moving its head down to preen occasionally, and ruffle its shimmering feathers.
"Where did you get the phoenix?"
Harry cast Snape a wary glance as he stepped into his trousers. "Tiberius Tattoos, a month after the battle. Oskar Tiberius did it himself. Wasn't cheap...but then good tattoos aren't."
Snape was curious. "Why did you want one like that?"
Harry gave an awkward shrug. "Partly in memory of Dumbledore, partly for dying and coming back to life. Partly to end one chapter of my life and enter another...oh, and like Ginny said, perhaps to balance out the curse scars on my other arm."
Snape peered at the ink bird, it was an extremely fine tattoo, and it seemed to be peering back at him with as much curiousity as he was. It did look uncannily like Fawkes...
Harry picked up his shirt from the floor and put it on. "So, did you get any tattoos...? Other than er, the dark mark of course..."
"No," replied the Slytherin flatly. "I found the first one more than enough for a lifetime."
"I don't think I'll get any more, either; this one's a one-off, too. Unless anything else life-threatening happens...hopefully bloody not..." Harry threw on his jumper and looked hurriedly for his shoes.
Snape observed him as he dressed. The young man was awkward, embarrassed, was mostly avoiding his gaze. The lingering doubt that had been lurking in the shadows of his mind all night advanced a little further forward.
"Going so soon, Potter?"
Harry's cheeks flushed again and he drew a hand through his mussed up hair. "Er, yeah, sorry, but I've... I just remembered Hermione wanted to meet me at lunchtime today."
Snape gave him an incredulous look, when Harry noted this, he reacted.
"I am telling the truth you know, I've really got to meet Hermione."
"I'm sure you do," was Snape's cool response. "After all, one must divide time equally between one's friends."
Harry's shoulders slumped.
"I...I'm sorry, but I have to go," He growled. "I'm also a bit nervous, too, you know. It's just that it was my first...my first..."
Harry reddened still more. "With a guy. Yeah..."
Snape paled, his mouth twisting with some indefinable emotion. "I see," he hissed quietly.
"Don't worry, I'll be back later, though," Harry offered with a shy smile. "Trust me, I promise."
The Slytherin opened his mouth as if to speak, but seemed to change his mind. His jaw snapped shut again.
Harry grabbed his outer robes. "So yeah...um, see you later...?"
After Snape's nod of acknowledgement, Harry headed for the door.
Once he heard the man leave the room, Snape's expression soured. He got out of bed, dressed quickly, pocketed his wand and moved into the main room, glaring long and hard at the bookcase before picking out a particular volume. Opening the cover revealed three vials full of a dark, muddy potion.
Pocketing one of the vials, he left his rooms and made his way swiftly along the corridor. As he joined the main dungeon corridor leading up to ground level, he encountered a whole crowd of third year students filing out at the end of a potions lesson. The stormy expression on his face was such that a few of them leapt out of his way in alarm, those who didn't see him felt themselves shoved aside.
"Mr Pucey looks pretty mad this morning," whispered one third year Hufflepuff girl to another.
"I think it's relationship issues, myself," nodded another sagely.
"Whatever it is," mused a third. "He's definitely got issues. Big ones. It's a shame really...if he smiled more he'd actually be quite good looking."
"Oh yeah, defo...IF he smiled more."
"If he smiled more AND took that pole out of his arse!"
The three girls giggled and went on their way to lunch.